Data Drives Innovation in South Africa’s Classrooms

In this blog series, we will discuss the importance of the use of data in South Africa’s education system – why it matters to parents, learners, and educators, and how providing educators with the information they need can help learners excel. In this post, we explore some of the innovative ways education officials are using this data to improve learner outcomes.  Click here to read all the blogs in this series.

Clarissa Abrahams teaches 114 students, aged eight to nine years, at a large, suburban school in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, one of the largest cities in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, which has the lowest Gross Domestic Product per capita in the country. On the opposite end of the South Africa, the Limpopo Province is an area where 79 percent of the population lives under the poverty line. Cecilia Mudzanani is the principal at Mukununde, a small multi-grade school in a rural village.

These schools are very different. But at both schools, educators faced a similar problem: they could see that their students were not performing to standard but could not easily access information about why individual students were missing the mark, or what trends could be discovered to improve the learning outcomes across the entire school.

Both educators now have access to Data-Driven Districts (DDD) Dashboards, thanks to a coordinated effort between the Department of Basic Education and school districts. With access to the DDD Dashboard, educators in South Africa have detailed learner performance information at their fingertips which can be used to identify problem areas and intervene accordingly.

Clarissa noticed her class was struggling in mathematics. She wasn’t sure if the issues were around data handling, measurement, or specific number operations. By using the DDD Dashboard, she was able to see trends across all her third-grade learners and find out the common areas where they were all underperforming. For example, she learned that some underperforming students were absent from school more often than their peers. With this information, she was able to bring the other third grade teachers together to brainstorm and strategize around specific interventions. They implemented those strategies and now continue to monitor progress over time in the dashboard, so they can see whether their solutions hit the mark.

At Mukununde school, poor network connectivity is just one challenge that Cecelia faces in using education technology to improve outcomes for her learners. Often, individual learner strengths and weaknesses can be camouflaged when many students of different ages and learning levels are in one room. With the new dashboard, Cecelia and other educators at the school can see how individual students are performing at a glance – and then they can institute classroom-aided interventions. Cecelia also appreciates that the dashboard automates many manual tasks like pulling data for reports and compiling information about potential trends, giving her more time with her learners.

Both Clarissa and Cecilia are using the DDD Dashboard to recognize top performing learners. Clarissa says, “I use the Dashboard as an informative tool to guide me on issues where interventions are needed, but also to see where credit can be given.” Cecilia has gone one step further. “Through DDD we are now going to have end-of-quarter merits and awards for learners who are performing well. Weekly submissions on Dashboard help us to track and identify them easily. We believe this will encourage other learners to work harder as well, and parents to get involved.”

Data has empowered Clarissa and Cecilia to make informed, real-time decisions to support their learners and improve learner outcomes. With knowledge of what works best, substantiated by data, educators across South Africa can implement interventions with the greatest potential to improve learner outcomes.

Helen Jervis manages communications for the DDD Dashboards program in South Africa. She is currently executing a data-driven user engagement strategy targeting DDD Dashboard users across seven provinces as part of the team at New Leaders Foundation. Helen joined the team in 2015 with a passion to drive sustainable change for children in South Africa.  Helen built the foundation of her career in advertising specializing in digital marketing strategy. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Sociology.